The challenge of fair and full representation: Why public defenders need these technology tools


Reductions in budget and staff have hit many areas of the public sector during the last five years. In some places you can tolerate this, but what happens when you have further reductions while caseloads of clients needing public defender services continue to grow? Technology can’t replace zealous representation or attorney expertise, but it can support the efficient operation of a Public Defender’s Office. Every task that you perform more efficiently can free time for critical trial and client work.

So, what technology should you consider?

First, select a quality data platform that can function as a case management solution with adequate security that can also seamlessly integrate with documentation. Look for a data platform that doesn’t ask you to change how you manage your cases and can also be customized affordably and quickly.

Second, be sure that the solution has workflow automation that can help you manage case assignment, client eligibility and even deadlines for hearings.

Finally, get a single solution that can manage client data, case data and attorney data and assignment with a look and feel that matches common applications like Microsoft Word.

How can these tools help?

Easily manage and automate client eligibility while reducing paper

Using an electronic eligibility form combined with document management, you can collect applicant data, then upload or scan supporting documents. This allows you to automate initial or full eligibility reviews and avoid filing and storing physical paper. You’ll avoid low-value tasks like filing, and automate eligibility tasks like ensuring that all data is received or that all required documentation has been submitted.

Select and assign attorneys using experience, evaluation and other key factors

Whether you use in-house counsel or operate a pro bono process, managing attorney assignment needs to include experience, availability and specialties to help you assign the right counsel, balance workloads and rotate through pro bono resources. And, if your process includes attorney evaluations, the data can be secured and used to assist your assignment decisions.

Manage billable hours

Whether you use outside counsel or in-house counsel, you can integrate tracking with a good case management solution. At the same time, the solution can connect billing documentation and invoices to the case, client and attorney record, letting you report for reimbursement, sum client costs or better understand which cases are consuming the most staff time. An integrated case management solution can manage billing data and the documentation in one convenient place.

Technology is not a replacement for attorney representation, but making essential tasks easier to perform contributes to the overall efficiency of your office. In a reduced budget environment, it is essential to the promise of full and fair representation that non-court tasks can move quickly and efficiently while costing less. This allows your attorneys to be effective and to put their time where it is needed the most – the zealous pursuit of their clients’ interests. Embracing technology and, specifically, an integrated case management solution will help you meet this critical responsibility.

Terri Jones

Terri Jones

Terri Jones is an enterprise advisor with Hyland’s Global Services team. Before coming to Hyland, in her 10-plus years in both state and local government, she’s managed IT departments, implemented... read more about: Terri Jones